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Mixed Reaction to Baca's Retirement PDF Print E-mail
Written by CNS and the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol   
Thursday, 09 January 2014 00:00

AP Photo/Nick Ut

Reaction was mixed following Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement announcement, with some officials applauding his decades of public service but many activists saying his departure was necessary to improve the operation of the department and the jail system.

The Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA) immediately released a statement they titled, “Wanted: A New Sheriff With A L.A. County State of Mind.”

“We applaud Sheriff Baca’s decision to step down from a post he has mired in controversy and shame,” said Angelica Salas, CHIRLA executive director. “It is time for Los Angeles to have a more open, pro-immigrant, pro-Los Angeles community sheriff and Baca has been ‘no friend’ to the immigrant community.”

The statement released byCHIRLA added that, “Thousands upon thousands of undocumented families living in Los Angeles County who com- mitted no major offense have been deported and faced years of unscrupulous detentions and referrals to immigration officials through Mr. Baca’s misguided embrace of ‘Secure Communities.’ In addition to this abhorrent practice shunned by many of his colleagues elsewhere, a growing reputation that the Sheriff ’s Department has become a lawless institu- tion which commits abuse and racially profiles communities without impunity has raised plenty of red flags for voters.

“Whatever his reasons for leaving, Sheriff Baca will not be missed by our community.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he spoke with Baca on Jan. 6, and that the sheriff gave him “no indication” he was thinking of stepping down from his post. The supervisor said his feelings about Baca's decision were mixed.

“He’s seen as one of the most enlightened law enforcement officials in the nation and I think in many ways he is,” Ridley-Thomas said. “Somewhat unpredictable, typically progressive, he tried his best to be responsive, soit's mixed.You can’t deny the problems that are stalking the department.”

Ridley-Thomas has pushed for a permanent citizens’ commission to oversee the sheriff’s department. Discussion of that matter by the board was postponed, but Ridley-Thomas said he and Supervisor Gloria Molina would continue to seek the third vote on the board needed to create such a body.

“The call for an oversight commission was without regard for who would be the sheriff,” Ridley-Thomas said. “(Baca) embraced the idea of a citizens’ commission.”

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union was less conflicted.

“Well, the ACLU called for his resignation two years ago, so, yes, we are pleased with this,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of South- ern California. “We believe that the major reform that is neces- sary for the sheriff ’s department can’t happen with him at the helm.

“But it’s not the only issue. It’s not only about who is the sher- iff, but if the department really changes its direction and introduces a dramatic number of reforms,” Eliasberg said.

The Board of Supervisors will need to appoint a successor to Baca, and staffers are researching the requirements for the post, which include residency. Baca suggested that Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald “hold down the fort,” but mentioned two others, Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold as possible candidates in the June election.

Ridley-Thomas said the list of potential appointees would include all the assistant sheriffs, adding Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo’s name to the speculation. But the supervisor said he wasn’t ready to comment on the campaign.

Eliasberg said he was prohibited by his role with the ACLU from endorsing any candidates, but said the organization would favor someone from outside the department. “It’s been a very insular organization for a long time,” Eliasberg said. “I think the Board of Supervisors should consider what the benefits would be of bringing somebody in from the outside.”

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck made note of Baca’s announcement at the beginning of the weekly Police Commission meeting, saying he rode alongside the sheriff during the Rose Parade with the LAPD and sheriff's equestrian units.

“That will probably be the last time the sheriff in his official capacity is in the Rose Parade, and it was a wonderful event,” Beck said. “And it was heartwarming to see the reception that he got by the crowd.”

L.A. City Councilmember Bernard Parks hailed Baca as “a remarkable public servant” for almost 50 years.

“There are very few that get the opportunity to start at the entry level of an organization and eventually reach the top leadership position,” Parks said. “Sheriff Baca should be com- mended for his many achieve- ments and personal sacrifice. I wish him well in retirement and he will soon find out there is life after LASD.”

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is campaigning for the sheriff ’s job and left the department after being named in a county commission report blasting management of the jail system, said that while he and Baca had their “differences,” he respected the sheriff ’s work.

“He’s voiced his opinions publicly as have I,” Tanaka said. “I’ll talk about that during my campaign, but I want to put politics aside for today and applaud him for his dedication to public service. This is a tough job and I want to thank Sheriff Baca for his decades of public service to Los Angeles County.”

Former sheriff’s Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, who has been vocal in his criticism of Baca and is also running for sheriff, said Baca “can run from the job, but he can’t hide from the culture of corruption.”

“It’s like cleaning up after a hurricane,” he said. “The storm is gone, but the damage remains. It’s time to clean house, implement major reforms and restore honesty and integrity to this department.”

Patrisse Cullors, executive director of the Coalition to End Sheriff ’s Violence in L.A. Jails, hailed Baca’s decision to step down, but said the county needs to continue working to ensure changes are made in the sheriff ’s department to improve conditions in the jails.

“The Board of Supervisors’ moral burden is massive and their decisions will go down in history,” Cullors said. “Whether Sheriff Baca acknowledges it or not, there is no greater failure than stepping down because of the shameful conditions of the department.”

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 02:04

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